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Monday, March 16, 2015

My Top 10 Favorite Naruto Arcs and/or Story Moments

            I apologize for the delay in releasing this, but as I stated in my initial post on the end of Naruto, the final chapter ended up coming out at a bad time, coinciding with the start of awards season frenzy, which made it impossible time-wise to really devote much thought to a comprehensive look-back.  However, now that that has all died down, I am finally able to spend my next several posts looking back at a franchise that was a huge part of my life for many years, even if my feelings towards it became rather complicated towards the end. 

            To start things off then, here is a list of my favorite arcs and/or story moments of the entire series.  For all the narrative and structural problems Naruto had by the end, there were still plenty of fantastic and powerful story arcs and character bits, and it was these aspects that made continuing to follow along well worth it

            Just to clarify, this list will not focus on any of the specific fights or battles between main characters- that will be dealt with in the next post.  What some of these arcs do include, however, are a series of smaller fights that, on their own, may have been good, but become great through how they mesh together in context to flesh out either the arc itself or the world as a whole.  Let us begin. 


10. Itachi overcomes Kabuto’s control of the Impure World Resurrection


            Itachi was always one of my favorite characters in the show and manga, and thankfully he got one final cool moment before being dumped back into the saddle with Sasuke for the purpose of explaining to him- AGAIN- why he is a moronic tool.  After being resurrected alongside Pain and sent off with the explicit mission to locate and eliminate Naruto and Killerbee, they find them en route to the battlefield, and are giving them a run for their money when a small action of Itachi’s earlier on (and prior to his death) comes full-circle; in a brief encounter in the woods, Itachi gave Naruto an unspecified power of his, and we finally found out what when, under the control of Kabuto, he attempts to use Amaterasu on Naruto and Killerbee, only to activate the power within Naruto.  The crow he gave him flies out of Naruto’s mouth, and we see that it has a Sharingan, specifically one from Uchiha Shisui, with the ability to basically take away one’s free will and make them do whatever the user wants them to do.  Having essentially “pre-programmed” the eye to make it’s victim protect the leaf at all costs, Itachi is freed from Kabuto’s control and effectively regains his free will, allowing him to aid Naruto in defeating Pain. 

            Fantastic.  Even when dead, Itachi was still able to outsmart and out-plan everyone around him.  Kabuto himself, after realizing what happened, basically just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Ah well, it’s Itachi.  What you gonna do.” 


9. Guy remembers Kisame’s name


            Kisame was always one of the more interesting members of Akatsuki, partially because he actually showed respect and even affection for his partner Itachi, unlike the others, who sometimes actively tried to kill each other.  And a major running gag concerning his character was that, even though he and Guy encountered and fought each other several times, Guy never seemed to remember who he was. 

            For the longest time, this seemed like just another riff on the “Guy is so childlike he’s kind of dumb” motif that was a huge part of his character, but it actually led to a pretty decent payoff when Kisame finally died (by committing suicide-by-shark…..which is actually kind of awesome) to prevent the Leaf from interrogating him and finding out who, exactly, Tobi really was.  After the others recover from their shock, and some wonder why he would even bother doing that, Guy speaks up and lauds him for protecting his comrades to the death like a true shinobi, even though they are on opposite sides.  He then says one my favorite lines of his in the entire series- “Kisame Hoshigaki; I will remember your name for the rest of my life.” 

            Awesome. 


8. The Entire 5-Kage Summit Arc


            This was, for me, the high-water mark of Naruto as a whole.  It introduces the last major pieces of the shinobi world that had been missing all the years we had been following along.  First, we finally see the remaining 3 Kages, learning additional bits and pieces about the histories of the other villages in the process.  Then, to the very personal joy of myself and the friend who first got me hooked on the show, we find out that there is another country in the world, this one populated by samurai!  We get some great, tense moments during the summit itself, and best of all, we got to see each of the Kages practically line up and take turns beating Sasuke’s sorry ass to a pulp. 

            After that, with the formation of the alliance and the start of the war, everything started ever so slowly to go downhill.  It took awhile before the series really got bad.  But this was the last whole arc of the show that was unreservedly awesome from start to finish, making it all the more memorable as a result. 


7. The Sasori Arc


            Alternatively known as the “Last Known Sighting of Sakura’s Dignity Arc,” this was the first storyline we got after the time-jump in the middle of the manga and anime, and what a fantastic way it was to introduce to the older versions of all the main characters.  Plus, it finally expanded the ranks of known Akatsuki members to 5 (ah man, the days when Akatsuki was still a source of mystery) with the introduction of Deidara and Sasori, the gruesome puppet master.  Plus, we got to see more of Gaara in action, which I never tire of. 

            And, in case the bit of snark above didn’t tip you off, it was also the first and final arc where Sakura was allowed to really shine as a character.  First, she saves Kankuro from Sasori’s poison with an antidote she practically develops on the spot, then is the only one strong enough to bust open the entrance to the Akatsuki hideout, and finally assists Grandma Chiyo in taking on Sasori directly in one of the best battles of the entire series.  And for her character, it was all downhill from there.  Such a shame. 


6. Seeing Adult-Naruto as the Hokage


            The last chapter was very much a mixed bag, devoting way too much time to the couplings and not nearly enough to explaining what happened in the larger world following the war.  That said, the one unassailably perfect part of it was finally seeing Naruto as the Hokage, with his face alongside that of Kakashi, Tsunade, and the others on the cliff face overlooking the village.  Naruto’s dream had been his driving force and motivation from chapter/episode one, and for all the story’s flaws, at least it followed through on this one, most important point. 


5. Hinata declares her love for Naruto


            Here’s a good think piece for you- which female character got shafted more over the course of Naruto; Saukra, or Hinata? 

            I would ultimately say Sakura myself, but that is really only because she had much more face-time than Hinata did, enough that the lack of development on her part became truly painful to endure at times.  Hinata comes in second because she actually did have some very profound moments of growth by the end.  And the best one was by far was where, staring certain maiming and/or death in the face, she confronts the head of Akatsuki as he is about to capture Naruto, and goes toe-to-toe with him.  And when Naruto asks her why, she says, quite simply, “Because I love you.” 

            Gone is the shyness.  Gone is the fear and hesitation.  Only a steely resolve to save the one she loves remains. 

            Keep on rocking, girl.  Naruto doesn’t really deserve you. 


4. Sasuke Leaves the Leaf Arc


            This was the final arc before the time skip halfway through Naruto (I am pretending, for my health’s sake, that all the filler crap in the anime never happened), the big moment where Sasuke decides to break with the Leaf and become a rogue ninja, or “Missing-Nin,” a designation that meant torture and death should the Anbu or elite forces of any village ever capture him.  Much like how the Sasori arc marked the high point of Sakura’s development as a character, this was also the last time Sasuke was in any way interesting (or relevant) as a character.  The tension within himself, and in the final confrontation between him and Naruto, is palpable, making their battle at the waterfall all the more affecting (more on that in a later post though). 

            It is also one of the best team moments of the entire series, and Naruto was always at its best when it focused on the group dynamics of Naruto’s generation from the Leaf, and how they struggled in their own individual ways to confront and shoulder the burdens, ghosts, and regrets of past generations.  Neji, Choji, Shikimaru, Rock Lee, and Kiba all have some great battle moments, and I always liked having Gaara, Kankuro, and Temari around whenever they showed up. 


3. Danzo’s Death


            From pretty much the moment he was introduced, I hated Danzo.  Just hated him.  I hated how he always escaped having to pay for being such a terrible schemer that he was willing to let the village be destroyed just for his own ends.  I hated him even more when it was revealed that he had a bloody Sharingan that made him not only invincible as a fighter, but also able to control the minds of anyone he chose.  I hated him for escaping from the other Kages, AND for nearly capturing Ao.  And when he was finally confronted by Tobi and Sasuke, I only wished for him to live long enough to hand Sasuke another well-earned ass-wupping (which he did, verily) before finally croaking, and good riddance. 

            So when he finally DID lose to Sasuke and die, I should have been pretty pleased, right? 

            Much to my shock, I wasn’t.  In fact, I found myself incredibly moved, and felt more than a little sad.  All because, right before he does die, Kishimoto pulls one of the best minor twists of the entire show, and gives us a single glimpse into Danzo’s past.  A glimpse of him wanting to sacrifice himself to save his team, but failing to speak up, resulting in the Second Hokage staying behind and dying so that they could escape.  He thinks back on this moment, and on the effect it had on him, and we, the readers, understand.  It does not justify his crimes, nor does it try to.  But we do finally see and understand the potent mixture of heartache, self-loathing, and personal pride that drove him to such extreme ends as a bitter old man. 

            Not only do we finally get to really see and know Danzo as a character better than ever before, he decides, in the last moments of his life, to cast aside his sense of self-preservation and make a final act of self-sacrifice, the one last technique he can use to defeat Tobi and Sasuke and protect the Leaf.  His last decision is, finally, the right one, and its ultimate failure lends his death an air of the bittersweet that was wholly unexpected.  It was exactly the sort of ending Sasuke needed, but never got.  At least we got it somewhere. 


2. Chuunin Exam Arc


            One of the longest arcs prior to the war, the Chuunin exam reaches a potent height of exotic grandeur unmatched by just about any other major arc of the story, filled to the brim with character development, world-building, fantastic fights, and a real sense of danger and threat that makes every move, every twist, and every victory by the good guys all the more exciting.  It is the first great elevation of the franchise to the status of fantasy epic, something that none of the lesser parts of the show or manga can even take away from it. 


1. Zabuza Arc


            While I know the Chuunin exam would justifiably top most people’s list of the best arc in the entire series, for me personally, nothing will ever be so close to my heart as the first real story arc of the entire franchise.  Sent on what was supposed to be a low-level escort mission, Naruto and the gang realize that the person they are assigned to protect is actually the crucial designer of a bridge meant to free his island from the tyrannical rule of a ruthless, corrupt businessman named Gato, and that hot on their trail is Zabuza, one of the deadliest rogue ninjas in the entire shinobi world.  It was here where the most crucial and enduring aspects of the franchise were set in stone; Naruto and Sasuke’s antagonistic rivalry, Kakashi’s wisdom as a fighter and teacher, the recurring theme of choice making a greater difference than parentage or inheritance in determining fate, and above all else, the inevitability of death and loss as part and parcel of life as a shinobi, something that always gave the series a greater sense of gravity and seriousness than One Piece or Bleach have ever had (both being franchises where no one ever dies).  It was the arc that drew me completely into the world of Naruto, and I have never looked back since. 


            And those, my friends, are the story arcs and moments from Naruto that I will always be able to reread or rewatch, the ones that made the entire effort to keep abreast of the story worth it for me.  Check back soon for my favorite fights and favorite characters of the series as well! 


-Noah Franc 

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